Response: A Further Look at the Realism of Genshiken

The Reverse Thieves made a post today about perceptions of realism in fiction and how pessimism tends to overwhelm optimism in public opinion of what is “realistic” or not, at the expense of being able to tell more happy and uplifting stories. It’s a really good read and it got me thinking, particularly because of the primary example they use, my beloved Genshiken.

Hisui writes,

There are a standard list of complaints people have with Genshiken. The first being the prevalence of  female characters in the club and those female characters being too attractive to be in such. The second complaint is that too many of the club members wind up in relationships by the end of the series. Tacked on to this is the belief that the characters lives turn out too cheery overall. Too many of them get jobs they like and come to accept who they are through the club. Essentially, Genshiken is not harsh enough. Real otaku are sadder and more pathetic. Real otaku life is darker and drearier. To generalize the complaint, Genshiken white-washes the life of an otaku and makes it seems happier than it is. Genshiken is accused of having just enough realism to get you to ignore the lies and placates with what you want to hear but does not give you the true story.

I’ve talked about Genshiken on this blog numerous times, and it comes as a surprise to no one that I love the series. I’ve heard these complaints too, that Genshiken is too unrealistic in that its members all achieve some degree of happiness and success, whether it be in relationships, careers, or other areas entirely. However, I want to point out that having the majority of the cast descend into a pit of despair and bland mediocrity would be more unrealistic. It is very possible for geeks and introverts to remain immature and unsocial creatures who remain uncomfortably nervous when interacting with others, but it becomes much more difficult when these otaku are faced with the situations that Genshiken finds itself in.

There is one character in particular responsible for bringing the otaku of Genshiken out of their shells, and she arguably has the most influence on the entirety of the manga.

Did you guess Ogiue? You know me well, but this time you’re mistaken. The girl I’m talking about is Kasukabe Saki.

Saki is initially brought into the club by her boyfriend Kohsaka. Saki is not an otaku and has no interest in becoming one nor the subconscious will to do so. As Narutaki points out, and as I’ve seen numerous times, it is not so unusual for an otaku or a geek or a gamer to bring his non-dork girlfriend into his club. And it’s also not so unusual to have at least one otaku who is charismatic or handsome. Saki initially dislikes Genshiken and finds opportunities to insult its members or to devise ways to separate Kohsaka from the club, but what she inadvertently does is expose them to forces outside of Genshiken, outside of their comfort zone. It is their encounter with the “real world,” so to speak, and as anyone who was once debilitatingly shy or awkward will tell you about what was responsible for their change, increased interaction with others is central to that success.

Further still, you would find that having to confront someone with opinions different from your own when you have no way of escaping will affect you and make you grow as a person. This is the case with Genshiken, as the club itself is regarded as inferior to the Manga and Anime Societies of Shiiou University, making it a club dedicated to outcasts among outcasts and thus the end of the line with no points of escape other than to abandon clubs entirely, and to lose that opportunity to be around others. This is clearly something that none of the members want, and the result is growth and change.

As a fellow new member, Sasahara finds himself positioned opposite Saki through his status as a burgeoning otaku. Becoming chairman of Genshiken simply because he seemed the best fit for carrying on the lackadaisical spirit of Genshiken, his assumed role at the top of the chain and the responsibilities given to him result in his confidence and maturity growing accordingly. He is able to win Ogiue over because he represents someone who is comfortable with himself, something he learned from being with Genshiken for so long. Keep in mind that he applies for the position of manga editor out of desperation, but then realizes that it’s a position he’s already had similar experience in, and is able to use his sincere love of manga and status as an otaku to convince the interviewer of his qualifications. And it all came from having to be Genshiken chairman every day for an entire year. Do something every day and love what you’re doing, and it’s almost impossible not to improve. This is reality.

Similarly, Tanaka goes on to a fashion college after graduating. Tanaka was already interested in making costumes, but the arrival of Ohno gives him the opportunity to constantly improve his craft with a willing partner and to devote his personal time and energy to it. We the readers are not entirely sure when Tanaka began to actually have feelings for Ohno beyond simple physical attraction, but we can be certain that they interacted with each other often and became very good friends who were able to share and understand each other’s ideas and feelings. While you might say it’s unrealistic that a hot babe like Ohno would go for a scruffy tubby guy like Tanaka, would you say the same thing if you knew a guy and a girl in real life who hung around each other practically every day and were united by common interests, and the girl was given the opportunity to see that the guy was not only pretty decent but had creativity and ambition, albeit in cosplay form?

Saki herself meanwhile undergoes significant changes too. Just like how the members of Genshiken were forced to confront opinions different from their own, Saki became exposed to the world of otaku and understood that people are defined by more than their hobbies and interests. While success and confidence were hers from the start, they were incomplete, as Saki was initially embarrassed to reveal to others that her boyfriend is an otaku. However, by being with Genshiken she not only accepts the idea of a boyfriend who will never stop being an otaku, but is able to proudly show that it’s not something she simply tolerates but is another aspect of the man she loves.

In the end, the X-Factor of Genshiken is Genshiken itself. Gather a group of people with different personalities and outlooks on life, and have them interact with each other every day for years on end, and people will change. It’s inevitable. Genshiken just happens to be fortunate enough to be comprised primarily of people who, while socially awkward, are interested in friendship and being able to share moments with others. While it’s impossible for me to be a part of Genshiken, I can personally say that my own experiences as a geek and as an otaku do not fall far from this example given in fiction. Even those who find themselves subject to the pit of despair would be hard-pressed to resist personal transformation in such an environment.

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7 thoughts on “Response: A Further Look at the Realism of Genshiken

  1. To me, Genshiken was just an instance where a group of otaku somehow managed to find happiness in their lives. The “otaku are sadder, uglier, more socially awkward, never will be happy” notion doesn’t have to dictate every single otaku in existence, that in itself is very unrealistic. I am annoyed by criticism that points out how characters in a work of fiction do not portray their stereotypes accurately enough. It’s ironic that society shuns stereotypical views and yet we expect characters in fiction to adhere to that stereotype.

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  2. Pingback: Fiction as a representation of RL « Deretsun

  3. Interesting. I don’t believe that showing people sliding into the very pits of life as they continue to escape reality is in any way unrealistic – not because of stereotype, but rather, because I have seen otakudom devour the lives of too many people. However, you’re right in that being challenged with real life is often an essential part of starting to adapt to real life’s demands.

    In fact, entirely independent of otakudom, introverts in general often speak of a friend, relative, or lover who would “keep knocking on their door” and urge them to take a more proactive, more accessible stance towards the demands of real life and society. So I’ll concur with you that the tale is essentially plausible, but disagree on whether or not ruin and doom attending otaku would make for a believable tale – I believe it would because I’ve seen it happen.

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  4. American Otaku, which I call Eigotaku, are usually pathetic and live miserable lives. It’s a sad constant. However, Genshiken shows hope that it doesn’t matter what you like, as long as you are true to yourself.

    Genshiken posed what I think is the perfect group setting: a circle of friends who all discuss the same thing and have intellectual conversations, and then eventually date each other. To me, it makes the most sense, so Genshiken was playing out a utopian society of sorts.

    Eigotaku, the only otaku I have had to talk to, don’t discuss how the animation was or compliment different techniques, rather they just say NARUTO IS COOL or MAN BANKAI IS SO AWESOME, never criticising plot points or story descriptions other than to either put them on a pike or to lap them up in golden goblets.

    In conclusion, while Genshiken is great, when it compares to the standards of Eigotaku today, it’s pretty unrealistic.

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  5. Personally, I think another way that argument about Genshiken is routed is in the case of Madarame’s end.

    If Genshiken was trying to “tell us what Otaku what to hear,” you’d be certain that Madarame would get the girl in the end. While Madarame does show a lot of personal growth over the course of the manga, (getting a job, becoming friends with Saki, learning to present himself in his own unique way) he doesn’t get the girl in the end. With many of his friends graduating, he has no reason to go to the Genshiken anymore, and is thus alone, not to mention his feelings for Saki are forever unheard and unrequited. (though not to say anything, ultimately, is made for noble reasons, again showing character growth…) Depending on how one reads the end of Genshiken, Madareme’s prospects are that he becomes a lonely otaku salary man with no friends…and the realism of that is startlingly depressing. (Of course, I like to think he kept in contact with some of his fellow Genshiken members, especially Saki, but the darker possiblity is something I can’t quite shake.)

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  6. Yeah – I think the whiners are missing out on a lot. In the case of Ogiue and Sasahara, Tanaka and Ohno, Saki and Kousaka – they don’t have perfect, beautiful relationships. They have messy human relationships with internal lines of conflict, relationships they have to work at, and it’s hard to call it a fantasy when part of what makes it work is that the author (with Sasahara’s dating-sim comparisons and Tanaka’s figure models and Saki’s reactions to Kousaka’s addictive behavior) is holding those relationships up to the fantasies and showing how pale and cramped the fantasy is by comparison.

    In short, if your only ambition is to be dating someone at all, ever, then yeah, it looks like wish fulfillment. But to me it just looks like my junior year, maybe a little abstracted. And I appreciate the humanity of it.

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  7. Pingback: Team Ogi and Team Ohno: Why the Genshiken manga puts me in two minds — SNAG Vs. World

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